Summer Running

It’s summer 2022 and life events are back in full swing – weddings, graduations, college reunions, birthday parties, the list goes on and on. I find that the pause we experienced the last two years has made me all the more grateful that I’m able to celebrate these occasions. Still, the one thing that I’m struggling to find an appreciation for….summer running. 

Here on the east coast, it’s felt like we’ve been in a heat wave for months. I know it’s August, but cooler weather seems to be ages away. Quite frankly, I’m sick of ending every easy run drenched in sweat. Living in a place with seasons, I have to learn to embrace the suck of summer running. So here are my tips and take-aways from my past few months of running in the heat:

Be humble. It’s no secret that it’s harder to hit faster paces in the heat. I’m usually pretty good about adjusting my workout paces for the heat, but when it comes to easy running, it’s hard for me to be humble. I was doing my winter easy runs at 9:10 pace or faster, with a HR under 155 BPM. Now, my heart rate spikes if I try to push under 10 minute pace. So I’m learning to slow down and respect the heat. I’ve found that if I run slower on my easy runs, I don’t have to scale back the pace as much on my harder workouts. It’s the same principle my coach totes year-round, “Run slow to run fast.” But I didn’t realize what a big difference that could make, especially in the brutal summer temperatures. 

Get out early. I’ve almost always been a morning runner. I like getting up, having a cup of coffee and a slice of toast, and hitting the road before the rest of the world is up and moving. I’ve found this to be an incredibly important habit to keep during the warmer months of the year when it often hits 80 degrees by 8 am. Unless you want to melt, or bring buckets of water, you have to get out the door early. Yet, during the summer is when I want to stay up later – I love summer and I want to make the most of it. And that leads me into my next tip…

Be consistent, but be flexible. We all know consistency is key when it comes to running, and we need to get our summer runs in to prep for fall races. But if you’re like me and you want to make the most of the summer, you have to be flexible. I want to go out for ice cream at night, have a beer on the deck, or stay out late at a baseball game. But it’s hard to do all of those things when you have to be up at the crack of dawn for a long run. So I’m learning to compromise. Sometimes that means saying no to plans, but more and more it means saying yes to plans, getting a little less sleep, getting up early, getting my run in, and then taking an afternoon nap if needed. I’ve been doing a lot of traveling, so I’ve moved some of my morning runs to the evenings to accommodate an early drive. Sometimes I’ll even cut a run short if I’m too tired or just not feeling it. I try not to do this very often, because I do think there’s value in finishing runs that feel hard. But I think sometimes a run feeling crappy is a sign that you need some extra rest. So if I was out late, and spent the day by the pool, and I felt a little too drained to finish my 5 mile run, I might just do 4. And that’s perfectly okay. 

Lounge. Yes, I absolutely want to make the most of my summer, but sometimes I’m just tired and need to rest. One of the things I’ve struggled with throughout my running journey is knowing when to take a break. It’s hard for me, especially during the summer when I want to be outside and soaking up the sunshine, but the sun can be draining. So if I’m tired after a sweaty, sunny long run, I’ve started giving myself permission to lounge on the couch and enjoy the AC for the rest of the day. Or, if I feel like getting out of the house, I’ll go to the movies. Taking time to rest is all the more important during the summer when the heat and humidity are taking their toll. 

Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. This is probably an obvious one, but it’s one I’m constantly working on. If it’s hot and I’m running for more than 30-40 minutes, I’ll bring my hand-held water bottle along. Some long runs I’ll plan a route where I loop back by my car or apartment in the middle so I can refill my water if needed. After the run I always always always have a nuun tablet. The lemon lime flavor has been my favorite for years. A nuun tablet dissolved in ice water at the end of a hot run is just *chef’s kiss.* I’ve also started buying watermelon to snack on when I’m feeling dehydrated throughout the day. Tasty and refreshing!

Ultimately, I think the key with summer running, as with most things, is balance. There’s no perfect formula for successful summer running, all you can do is get out the door as much as possible, and have fun doing it. 

Hartford Marathon 2021 Race Recap

It was somewhere around mile 11, when the half marathoners broke off and headed toward the finish, that I started thinking to myself, I am never doing this again. My body was already hurting and I still had another 15 miles to go. 

Last weekend I ran my third full marathon in Hartford, CT. I picked Hartford for convenience more than anything, I didn’t know where I’d be living when I registered, but my hometown is just 20 minutes outside the city, so I knew I’d be able to stay with my parents and they’d be obligated to come out and cheer me on. 

Between registration and race day my plans for a “convenient” race grew into something much more fun and exciting. My two childhood best friends wound up registering for the half marathon. Neither were crazy enough to join me for the full, but it would be nice to have a few friendly faces on the course.

My cheer squad grew too.  It was my middle sister’s fall break so she was home from college. My brother happened to have a free weekend and decided to come down from Boston. My youngest sister still lives at home so she was obligated to come regardless. My parents, my most loyal fans, would also be around. It would be the first time my entire family would be able to watch me run, which was incredibly exciting. 

I woke up early the morning of the marathon, put on the race outfit I’d picked out weeks ago, and made myself a cup of coffee and toast, my usual pre-run breakfast. I did my best to stay “in the zone.” My mom was nice enough to get up early and drive me to the start, the rest of the family would sleep in a little and join the fun later.

Thanks to a slow moving line at the port-a-potty, I slipped into my corral just before the starting gun went off. There was no more time for me to be nervous, I just had to do what I’d been training my body to do for months – run. 

The first few miles I just tried to find my rhythm and not waste too much energy weaving through the mass of runners. By mile three, the crowd had thinned and I settled in with the 3:35 pace group. The first half cursed us with rolling hills, but I’d prepared for that. I took the uphill slow and relaxed, and let myself glide on the downhills. I’d made the mistake of taking the hills too hard in my last marathon and my quads paid for it dearly in the end. I learned that lesson the hard way, and was playing safe and smart this time around. 

The first few miles were some of the more exciting of the race, weaving through the streets of downtown Hartford. My cheerleaders yelled my name and waved around homemade signs as I ran by. I fist pumped as I passed, filled with the energy of the race environment. 

I let the race-day adrenaline get to me a little, and I knew I’d taken the first few miles a little too fast. I slowed a bit and focused on staying with the 3:35 pacer. My big, lofty goal was to run 3:30. So I figured I would stay with the 3:35 pacer for now and if I felt good at the half, I could pick up the pace from there. 

I breezed through the first 11 miles, but as the half marathoners veered left and headed toward the finish, I could help but envy them. I felt okay now, but would I still feel okay for another 15 miles? Why would I put myself through all this pain? Is it worth it?

It was in that moment I decided that this would be my last marathon. I would do more half marathons, but this would be my last full. And if that was the case, I had to give it my all. 

As I passed the half-way marker, I assessed how I was feeling. Good, but not great. I decided to stay with the 3:35 pacer. I felt challenged, but relaxed cruising along at 8:15 pace, so I stayed with the group. It was nice to run with other people. The morale was high and I fed off that energy. I chatted with a few of the guys about another race they’d done recently – a Spartan race where runners completed challenges while climbing Mount Killington in Vermont. I told them my brother had done the race, but went into it completely unprepared. He and his friends hadn’t realized it would take 8 hours and require climbing the mountain multiple times. They didn’t bring any food or water, and I’m really not sure how they survived. I joked with my new friends that this marathon would be a breeze in comparison. I wasn’t sure I really believed that, but it was nice to know we were all in this together. And at least I’d prepared for this. 

We worked our way through the later miles and a few folks dropped off – some sped up ahead of the group, and others succumbed to the pain. But I stayed with it, for now. 

Why would I put myself through all of this pain? Is it worth it?

The way the course was designed, around mile 18 or 19 we could see some of the elite runners headed toward the finish. They had about 2 miles left while we had another hour of running a head of us. I tried to be inspired by their speed instead of feeling discouraged by how far I still had to go. 

I was pleasantly surprised by the number of fans who came out and supported us through the later miles, including my dad who ran alongside the race course shouting words of encouragement. My sisters showed up with some signs and my brother gave me a high five so aggressive I nearly fell over. Still, I fed off the fans and their energy. 

Or at least I tried to. The little water bottle I carried with me ran dry around mile 20 so I just focused on making it to the next water stop. I felt tired and dehydrated and I wanted to take another gel to boost my energy, but I knew I needed water first. It felt like forever, but eventually the water stop came and I was able to suck down some hydration and refill my bottle. It was the first water stop I’d actually slowed to a walk for and that may have been a mistake. Thanks to the brief walk break I could feel my legs cramping up. They were tired and heavy, but I had to put it out of my mind. I just had another four miles to go, I could do this. 

For the next few miles I just focused on putting one foot in front of the other. It wasn’t my fastest, but I kept a good pace and I was just ahead of the 3:35 pace group. That was until the final hill. It was only really a slight incline over the bridge and back into downtown Hartford. I was only a mile from the finish, but my legs had never felt heavier. I made a deal with myself I would walk for just a second, then finish strong. And that’s what I did. My dad appeared as I slowly climbed the hill, cheering as if I had a shot at winning the race. As I crossed the bridge I started running again and my dad jogged alongside me, just like he had done during my high school cross country races.

As much as I wanted to stop and walk the last mile to the finish I told myself I couldn’t do that. I thought about the 16 year old girl who hated running but joined the cross country team anyway. I thought about how badly she wanted to quit during her first practice, but she stuck with it and somehow running had changed her life for the better. It occurred to me that now, ten years later, that same girl was running a full marathon at a faster pace than she ran her best cross country races in high school. So I dug deep for her. 

I sped up as I crossed over into Hartford. The remainder of the 3:35 pace group passed me during my walk break and I couldn’t quite catch them, but I kept a good pace as I headed back into the city and towards the finish. Someone yelled, “Only a quarter mile to go!” Which I knew was a lie since I couldn’t even see the finish yet. Then, it came into view. The Arch. The Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch marked the finish of the race. I picked up the pace and gave it everything I had to get to that finish. I crossed the line in 3:38:33. More than 10 minutes faster than my last marathon. 

I was deliriously tired and everything hurt. I stumbled through the finish where I saw and thanked the 3:35 pacer for helping me get through the bulk of the race. I got my medal, mylar blanket, and a bag of goodies then found a bench where I could sit down. I reunited with my friends and loyal cheer squad somewhere in between the finish line and the beer garden. We took some time so celebrate our accomplishments and complain of our achy muscles. I vowed that this was it, this was my last marathon, I was never going to put myself through that again. I was sure I didn’t want to do 26.2 again. 

Now, however, as I reflect on the race, I think I will do it again. Yes it hurt, and my legs will be sore for at least another week, but there’s something about the marathon that keeps me coming back. For one, I know that I have more to give. I want to run a race where I’m mentally strong enough to push through when it hurts and not walk up that last hill. I want to take what I learned in this race and apply it to another one and see how much faster I can go. I want to see if I can nab an elusive Boston Qualifying time. I’d just have to shave another 10 minutes off my time. I think it might be do-able?

I’m not sure what’s next, but I’m sure I’ll be back. The marathon and I still have some unfinished business. 

Why am I doing this?

Why would anyone run a marathon?

Training for and running a marathon is a grueling process. You really only know how truly grueling it is until you’re in the thick of it. It’ll test you mentally, as well as physically. The marathon will force you to explore the limits of your body and, most often, push past them. 

As I begin my fourth* marathon training cycle, I am already being tested. 

*This is the fourth marathon I’ve trained for, though I’ve only completed two thus far. The last marathon I trained for I decided not to run last minute due to a nagging ankle injury. Marathon training is tough on the body!

Today I had a long run on the calendar. 16 miles. A doozy, especially given that the temps have been creeping up past 90 all week. Thankfully it had rained overnight bringing relief to the unbearable heat, but still, I wanted to get up and out early so as not to get stuck running in the mid day sun. Not to mention that a 16 miler would take up a good chunk of my day, well over 2 hours for sure. 

So I got up and got going early, or at least somewhat early. 7am was late compared to the regular 5:30 wake up calls of previous marathon training cycles, but it was a Sunday and I did need my sleep. I started my usual pre-run routine with a cup of coffee and some toast. I journaled a bit while I nursed my cup of coffee, only half procrastinating my run. Eventually I got around to lacing up my sneakers and doing my warmup drills. I packed up a small bag with water, electrolytes, a towel, and a few other things I thought I might need for the run. I drove just a few minutes down the road and parked along one of my favorite trails. I surely could have just run from my apartment to the trail, but today I felt like starting my run on the trail. The vibe just felt right, so I rolled with it. 

I did a few more warmup drills and contemplated a trip to the port-a-poty before taking off down the trail. Aright, I thought, this isn’t so bad. I kept the pace nice and relaxed to start, easing into the repetitive motion. One foot, then the other. I had plenty of miles ahead of me to pick up the pace. Just as I felt like I was hitting my groove I felt my ankle twist and went straight down to the ground. 

“Are you okay?” A lady called from a car in the nearby parking lot. It took me a second to realize what had happened. “Yeah, I think so.” I quickly assessed the damage. It hurt, but it didn’t seem too bad. “My car isn’t far,” I replied to the kind lady who’d offered to help. I sat on the ground for another minute, before scooping up my phone and water bottle that had scattered on the sidewalk. 

Thankfully my phone only had a few minor scratches. I’d had the phone for months and still hadn’t bothered to get a new screen protector. I could hear my mom lecturing me. I stood up to better assess the damage. My knee was scraped up but not badly and elbow had a small cut, but that barely hurt. I was more worried about the ankle that had rolled. I put a little weight on it and then a little more. It felt surprisingly okay. I must have just caught a rock and lost balance, I didn’t really roll my ankle. Thank god. 

I exhaled, grateful things weren’t worse. 

I knew things could have been much worse. I had a history of breaking my wrist during simple falls like this. So I was thankful for a few simple cuts and bruises. 

Still, I wasn’t sure if I was okay enough to finish the run. I was barely a half mile in when I fell, so thankfully my car really wasn’t far. But, I did have a long way to go if I was going to complete my mileage for the day. 

I jogged back to the car cautiously. 

I used the towel I’d packed and a little extra water to clean up my wounds. It really wasn’t that bad, seemed like a pretty standard scraped knee. I was cautiously optimistic, but my ankle seemed okay too. 

I could finish the run. But did I want to?

There was part of me that just wanted to get back in my car and go home and skip the next 15 miles. Or tell myself I’d go home and get cleaned up and finish the run later. But I knew that if I didn’t do it now I definitely wouldn’t do it later. 

I wanted to cry. The scraped knee was dumb, I was fine, but I was tired. I didn’t really want to run 15 more miles. In that moment all I wanted was someone to feel sorry for me that I’d scraped up my knee. Was I just a five year old kid on the playground? 

I think I really only started running again because my choice was either run or pout like a little kid. No run is perfect, I told myself. 

I got into a flow. The cuts on my knee stung for a while, but eventually the pain subsided and I actually felt okay. I somehow finished the 10 mile trail loop and made it back to my car, yet again. 

Just six more miles

I remember telling myself that at mile 20 of my first marathon. “Just six more miles, just a 10k, you’ve done that a million times, you can do it.” It worked wonders for me then. I’d never run a marathon before at that point, so breaking it down into easily digestible chunks, like “just one more 10k” made it seem possible, and it was. I finished that race in just about 4 hours 20 minutes, very respectable for a first go at the marathon. 

Today, six more miles felt more daunting. I was tired. It was warm and humid. Thankfully the sun hadn’t decided to make much of appearance, but still, I was tired and sweaty. I thought about calling it there, but I didn’t. Overall, I felt okay, so I pushed on. I got a second wind in the next few miles, and I breezed through to mile 13. Then I started to not feel so good. 

I should have had a second piece of toast. I could feel my stomach aching. Really all that was in there was some water and the two gels I’d had gotten down thus far. My stomach was saying that it needed sustenance, but I wasn’t sure if it could take another gel. Since I was low on energy and I had no other options, I took the third gel. And it did not sit well. The nausea came first, then the cramps. I tried just slowing down, but the cramps only got worse. I hated stopping during a long run, especially so close to the finish, but I felt like I couldn’t keep moving like this. 

I paused and took a few deep breaths. I didn’t want to start running again, at least not yet, so I walked for a few minutes. 

What is the point? Why am I doing this? Why did I sign up for another marathon?

The negative thoughts didn’t just creep up on me, they surrounded me on all sides.

I was happy running 5k’s and 10k’s last year, and I never felt like this. So why am I doing this? Why?

I didn’t have a good answer for myself, but I knew I wasn’t a quitter, so I started up a jog again to quiet my thoughts. Somehow the 16 mile mark came and I finally got to stop. I felt accomplished sure, but that wasn’t enough to keep the ultimate question at bay. 

Why the hell am I running (another) marathon?

I told myself it’s because I want to qualify for Boston. But then the devil on my shoulder came back with the “why the hell would you want to do that?”

Even if I did qualify for Boston, who knows if I would make the registration cut off. And even if I did make the cut off, I’d then have to run another marathon, Boston. 

Sure, yes, I have this lofty golden goal of qualifying and running Boston. But I could have other goals, that are just as impressive, that don’t require me to run multiple additional marathons. 

So I thought back on why I started running. Or at least, why I started running half marathons/marathon. Something that was a big factor in my decision to run so many of those early races that I wanted so badly to impress people. I felt like I’d been overlooked for so much of my life, my accomplishments paled in comparison to those of my siblings and my peers. Or so I felt at the time. So the marathon was a chance for me to prove myself. None of my siblings had run, or probably ever would run a marathon, and it wasn’t something many of my peers chose to do, so it was something that could be mine. Plus, it was impressive no matter what time I ran, just so long as I had run a marathon. 

The accomplishment factor just didn’t ring true for me anymore, at least not in the same way. In training for and running my past marathons, I’d also learned to run fast at shorter distances. Not incredibly fast, but fast enough to be the 2nd place female in a local 10k, and win $50, which felt pretty cool to me. I didn’t need the marathon to be impressive anymore. I’ve also now made peace with myself and my accomplishments and I don’t feel the need to do things just for the attention or the “wow” factor. 

So then, why was I doing this?

I then thought that was because I wanted to escape. Which is, or was, somewhat true. Between work and school and social media, running was a chance to spend a few hours outside not looking at my phone or checking my email. Especially when work was stressful, or I wanted to try and forget that I was waiting for a text from the guy I had a massive crush on, running was an excellent escape. 

I still feel that way, at least to some extent. I don’t feel the need to run away from my problems anymore. And I don’t feel like I need running to put away my phone and unplug. I now face my problems head on, and deal with them in a healthy way. I’ve also gotten much better at setting boundaries with work and various aspects of my life so that I can unplug when I need to.

What I do still enjoy is getting outside and spending a few hours appreciating all that mother nature has to offer. I feel a little less appreciative when it’s 80 degrees and humid, but I do still appreciate it. I also appreciate the movement. I appreciate all that my body can do for me, like running 26.2 miles consecutively. 

I then thought back to why I started running at all. I wasn’t much of a runner growing up, and I definitely wouldn’t have considered myself an athlete, but for one reason or another I found myself showing up to cross country practices my junior year of high school. I remembered how I felt then, especially in those first few practices. My mindset was much the same as it was today.  Why am I doing this? 

I’ll never forget how badly I wanted to quit during those first few cross country practices. I wanted so badly to feign an injury so that I could stop running. But I didn’t. I didn’t have a good reason for why I was doing it, other than I didn’t have a good enough reason to quit. And I’m so glad I didn’t quit. 

Running has given me so much. It’s given me strength, both physical and mental. It’s given me confidence in myself and my ability to do just about anything I set my mind to. It’s given me an appreciation for my body, and for the world around me. 

Running has made me an all around better person, as so I guess that’s why I don’t quit. And sure, I could run 5k’s, 10k’s, or even just half marathon’s and see those benefits and avoid torturing myself with 16+ mile runs. But I don’t, and not just because I don’t have a good enough reason not to. But because days like these, days where it feels like everything is going wrong and I want to quit, those are the days that make me stronger. 

Also because, I’m so grateful that I laced up my shoes for that first cross country practice, so I’m sure I’ll one day be grateful that I laced up my shoes today. 

Join me on Tik Tok for more real-time run recaps.

Turkey Trot 2020

The First Annual 5k Turkey Trot Fun Run in the Pouring Rain. 

We’ve heard it a million times already, but the holiday’s are looking a little different this year. There’s less traveling, fewer family gatherings, and annual turkey trots were few and far between. 

Where I grew up in Connecticut, the Manchester Road Race is the big Thanksgiving day race. The race is a pretty big deal even if you’re not from the area, considering it draws a crowd of competitive runners from around the world. Still, having grown up just 30 minutes from the race, it was the Thanksgiving day race. 

I’ve never actually run the Manchester Road Race. I was always aware of it growing up, but my family wasn’t one of the groups decked out in costumes and trotting through Manchester on Thanksgiving morning. As I’ve gotten more into running over the past few years, I’ve added the Manchester Road Race to my running bucket list. The idea of spending my Thanksgiving morning racing my way down the 4.75 mile course alongside (or, more likely, behind) some serious competitive runners has a real appeal to me. 

That race wasn’t an option this year though. Like most big road races, the Manchester Road Race went virtual, which isn’t quite the same.

While I’ve never done a big race on Thanksgiving, I have run in a neighborhood Turkey Trot a few times. The unofficial official title was “The Hungry Road Road Race.” A few families living on a street called, you guessed it, “Hungry Road” gathered their fellow running friends for a few loops around the block. It was a solid 3.1 mile loop – one lap for a 5k and two for 10k. The hosting family always had homemade pies and hot apple cider ready in their drive way at the finish. 

We joined the “race” for a few years when I was in college. It was no Manchester Road Race, but it was fun to get in a few miles with some friendly faces, and have an excuse to eat pie before noon. It was really the perfect small town event, and I’ll never forget running the 10k with my high school physics teacher one year. 

After I moved to San Francisco in 2017, I stopped coming home for Thanksgiving. Without my persistent energy to motivate my family to get out and moving at the crack of dawn on Turkey day, we stopped going to the exclusive Hungry Road Road Race. I’m sure we could reach out and see if they still do it, but, given the current situation this year, I had a better idea for a neighborhood Turkey Trot that wouldn’t require expanding our social circle. 

My sister, Marilé, had taken up running over the summer and was starting to build strength and speed just as I’d done when I started running in high school. On the other hand, my brother, Peter, has run since middle school. Actually, he was top 20 (maybe top 10?) in the state for cross country in the eighth grade. He stopped running competitively to play soccer in high school, but the kid has always been fast.

When I first started running, I was motivated by my brother’s prowess and our good family friends, Kevin and Samantha, who were always naturally athletic. Kevin was a self-proclaimed track star in high school, and Samantha played Lacrosse in college. I remember the summer I started running, the four of us went for a run together and I could barely keep up. I think Kevin and Samantha were kind enough to stay back with me as I struggled through the two mile loop, but my speed demon brother definitely left me in the dust. 

A little throwback:

The first picture is me & Samantha after I ran my first 10k. We both won our age group that day! The second is Peter in his eighth grade state meet, he’s the one in the maroon “Granby” uniform.

Now, nearly ten years later, we all still run. I’ve gotten faster, Peter has probably slowed down a bit, and Marilé runs now too! That makes five of us, a solid crew for a makeshift Thanksgiving Day turkey trot. 

I mapped out a course for a 5k around our town park. The route started in the center of town, about a half mile from the entrance to the park. The course followed the sidewalk down into the park, and then two loops around the parking lots in the park. Since we followed the parking lots to stay on pavement, rather than doing a full loop around the grounds of the park, our course wound up resembling a fallopian tube, as Kevin, a pre-med student, so thoughtfully pointed out. 

I proposed my idea for the mini-race and everyone, more or less, agreed it was a great idea. My brother likes to complain, so there would be no pleasing him, but he’s competitive and agreed to run for the chance to beat Kevin. I figured it was the perfect Turkey trot idea – a semi-competitive environment, the camaraderie of running, and the chance to get in a solid run before filling our bellies with pie. Plus, selfishly, I wanted the chance to run a 5k with people who would push me to run faster. I wanted the chance to break my 5k PR. 

Let me give a disclaimer, my 5k times are nothing to write home about. I’ve never been a particularly fast runner. Still, I’ve come a long way from that summer I first started running and I’m really proud of how much faster I’ve gotten since then. This was a chance for me to show off to my friends and family, and to prove to myself that I’m capable of running so much faster than I ever thought possible. 

I woke up Thanksgiving morning to the sound of rain beating down on the roof. It was pouring. I’d told our Turkey Trotting crew that the run was on, rain or shine, but I checked my phone to see if anyone had bailed yet. 

No new messages. 

I checked the weather and saw that it was supposed to let up around 10, which I hoped would be perfect since we all planned on meeting at the park at 9:30. 

9:15 rolled around and it was still raining. My brother was whining that he didn’t have anything to wear for the rain, but I told him to grab a hat and he’d be fine. I was optimistic that it would let up. 

I got to the park a little early to I could jog a few warm up laps, though there was really no way to get warm in this weather. The good sports that they were, Kevin and Samantha were already there, huddled up in their car with a good old Cup O’ Joe from Dunkin’ in the back seat. 

My siblings arrived a few minutes after I finished my warm up laps. I tried to convince Kevin to jog a lap with me, but he opted to stay in the warmth of the car, which might have been the better choice. My shoes were already soaked through from jogging through the puddles. 

Peter refused to get out of the car until we started running, so I went over the route with everyone while he stayed in the driver’s seat of my mom’s CRV and everyone else huddled around him in the cold. What a princess. 

“Down, into the park, take a left at the fork, loop around the small lot, then back up to the fork, and loop around the big lot. And then do the two parking lot loops again, and finish at the entrance to the park. Got it?”

Everyone nodded, though Marilé looked a little confused. “Just follow everyone else, you’ll be fine.”

Peter finally sucked it up and got out of the car, and we jogged up to the start together. We were all pretty soaked before we even started the “race.” All eager to get it over with, we only stopped for a minute at the start line before setting off the imaginary starting gun. 

Peter and Kevin took the front and I stayed close behind. Not too close, but closer than I think they liked. 

The first mile was easy, it was mostly downhill into the park. Even the second mile wasn’t too bad. Sure I was cold, but the frozen feeling in my extremities prevented me from feeling how tired I was. Actually, the cold was exhilarating. 

With about a half mile to go I started really feeling it. My arms were burning even though I was only running; every muscle in my body was working towards my goal and I could feel it. But I was still not too far behind Kevin and Peter and I didn’t want to slip away. There was no way I could catch them, but I could at least prevent the gap from getting any bigger. Once I rounded the corner on the second lap around the big parking lot I could feel the finish within my reach. I pushed into that final gear as I darted through the puddles and towards the entrance to the park; the finish. I finished less than a minute behind Peter and Kevin, with a cool time of 20:38. A new 5k PR. 

I looked up to Peter and Kevin. We were all drenched, but Kevin gave me a hug. “That was awesome.” It was miserable, but it was awesome. 

We cheered on Samantha and Marilé as they crossed the finish too. There were smiles and high fives, and a rush to get out of the rain. 

Unlike my companions, I was dancing in the rain. The runners high swept me up and I opted to run another cool down lap in the rain while the rest of the crew went back to dry off and indulge in the coffee and donuts we’d brought as our reward.

I caught up with everyone a few minutes later, even more drenched than I was when they left. We all changed into dry clothes to wear while we enjoyed the coffee, donuts, and time to catch up with our friends. 

There was something special about curing up on the couch with hot coffee as we recounted how miserable the run was, but how grateful we were to have done it. We were grateful to be able to run with our friends, enjoy donuts and coffee, and catch up on the latest in each others lives. 

I am very thankful for my friends and our makeshift turkey trot. I’m thankful for them putting up with my insistence that we still run, even in the pouring rain. I’m thankful for my ability to run, and to keep getting stronger and faster. And, while it hasn’t been the most straight forward year, I’m thankful for 2020 giving me the opportunity to have these experiences. I’m thankful to be home with my family and friends and to run our “First Annual 5k Turkey Trot Fun Run in the Pouring Rain.”

I have no idea what the next year will bring, but I hope there is a 2nd annual race. Or maybe I’ll get to finally the Manchester Road Race. Who knows what surprises 2021 will have in store for us.

Racing During the Pandemic

The Granby Road Race 2020

I jogged down the hill to where people were lining up for the start. It was 8:26 and the race started at 8:30, or at least the first wave started at 8:30. I knew I was a little close to the start time, but I was shocked how many people were already lined up. 

I was expecting a small race, capped at fifty, maybe a hundred people, but there were easily a hundred and fifty runners already lined up. Or maybe it just looked like there were more people since runners were required to be spaced single file, six feet apart. 

I jogged up closer to the start and tried to find a place in the line of runners. I was probably pushing the six feet rule, but we had our masks up, and I wasn’t about to get stuck at the back behind a hundred slower runners.

“Did you sign up for virtual New York or guaranteed entry next year?” A group of friends in front of me was chatting. “I did guaranteed entry, I’ll have to pay for that again which is a pain.” It was a typical conversation between runner friends these days. What races are you running…next year? Is it going to be virtual? Will it be postponed to 2022 or 2023?

There was no gun to signal the start of the race, we just saw the line start moving. Slowly I inched up to the starting line. The guy manning the start put his hand up indicating the group in front of me to stop. They paused. After a minute or so break he waved them forward. 

Then it was my turn. 

I hadn’t raced in over a year. My last race was the JP Morgan Corporate Challenge last September in San Francisco. I ran a solid time for the 3.5 mile race, 23:31, somewhere around 6:44/mile. Nothing crazy, but a pretty good time, especially for someone who was still discovering the limits of her speed. 

But that was a year ago. Since then I’d trained for a marathon only to injure my ankle a few weeks out from the race. Then the pandemic hit and my upcoming half and full marathon plans were derailed. Although in hindsight, it may have been a blessing in disguise as I was plagued by yet another injury in the spring – this time a pulled muscle in my lower back. 

I had three solid months of healthy training behind me now, and the racing gap had me fired up to run a really good time. 

I took off. 

The first mile was fast. I looked at my watch at the first mile marker – just over seven minutes. I should probably slow down. My goal was to average around 7:20 pace so I knew I’d gone out a little too fast, I should have been closer to 7:25-7:30 for the first mile. Still, I pressed on but tried to settle down a little. 

Then the hills came. 

The Granby Road race is my hometown race, I don’t know that I would have known about the race or decided to run it if it wasn’t the local race for the town I grew up in. I’d been back living with my family in Granby since May after I decided I wanted to escape San Francisco and my little apartment for more space and the fresh country air. I’d initially planned to go back to SF around Labor Day, but then I found out that the road race was happening and I decided to stick around a few extra weeks for the opportunity to run a “real” race. 

The course starts at the local high school/middle school and cuts through the center of town before looping up and into McClean Game Refuge and then down though the game refuge, back through the town center and up another hill back to the school. 

The first mile or so of the race is mostly down hill which explains why I ran it to fast, that, and the adrenaline of finally being able to race again. The course then cuts off the main road, up a hill to an opening in the game refuge. In the refuge you run on windy, rocky trails, up and down through the woods before coming back out to the main road and into town again. The final stretch is a challenging uphill to the finish in front of the school. 

It’s a difficult course for two reasons – the first being the hills, particularly because the majority of the downhills are in the woods, covered in rocks, where you have to slow down to make sure you don’t trip or roll an ankle as you roll down the hill. The woods mean you have all of the suffering of the uphill, and none of the easy, fast flow down the hill. Then there’s the roots and sand and general challenges of running the trails and the uphill finish, which is never fun. 

I knew all this going in – I’d run the race once before and I’d done some training runs in the game refuge. I was ready to go and I knew that I wouldn’t be able to run an exceedingly fast race. I just wanted a solid time good enough to put me in the top finishers and based on prior year race results I thought I could do it. 

Eyes on the prize. 

The first hill wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I passed a few people on the uphill, and I’d passed many more on the quick stretch through town after the start. My mom, sister, and dog were waiting for me at the edge of the game refuge with a cup of water. I grabbed the cup for a quick sip, just as I would at a normal water station, then tossed the cup back in their direction. I’d told my sister to pick up the cup – I didn’t want to litter. 

There were no water stations at the race this year. Usually they had two positioned strategically throughout the course, but to reduce human interaction they cut those out this year. 

I wasn’t the only one to have family and friends placed throughout the course to pass a bottle of water. My mom lended an extra cup for another mother to hand to her daughter, and there was a group cheering and passing out water bottles to their crew a little later in the race. 

The trails were just as challenging as I’d expected. The downhill was slow going as I was afraid of falling or rolling an ankle. Someone I’d passed earlier passed me back as a struggled not to trip. The flat sections of the trail were also slower, but more fun. I enjoyed pushing the pace on the clearer sections and then dodging the roots and other things on the trail. I passed back the guy who passed me on the downhill, along with a few others. 

As I neared the exit to the game refuge I passed a group of young runners. “Marzo?!” One shouted. I turned to see a familiar face. It was a friend of my sister’s who I knew was running the race. He pulled out his phone to snap a quick pic for my sister, and then I kept going. 

At the exit to the game refuge was my dad on his bike. As he saw coming out of the woods he reached for the water bottle he kept in holder on his bike. “I’m good,” I gestured as it was a cool day and I didn’t want to slow down for another water break. 

My dad hopped back on his bike and rode alongside the course cheering me and the other runners on. The group of young runners, including my sister’s friend, stayed close throughout the last stretch of the race. I would pass one of them, another would pass me back. It was a fight to the finish and I loved it. 

“You got this Caroline!” My dad shouted from his bike and I suffered up the last hill and turned into the loop in front of the school. I pushed for a final kick, but could only muster so much speed to get myself up the hill. 

I crossed the finish line in 46:38, at least according to my watch – the finish clock read 51:54. Thanks to the staggered start I wouldn’t know the official results or my place until later in the day. 

I was ushered away from the finish line and found my family amongst the small group gathered along the finish. I wanted to keep moving to cool down so we walked toward the car. There was no finish festival or awards ceremony so we were free to head home. I took a few minutes to drink the water and electrolytes my sister had brought for me and did some active stretches. I then passed the water back to my sister and jogged home.